October 2008

10/30/08 at the NYC Scrabble club

Now that baseball is done, I have all kinds of (much needed) free time, so I visited the NYC Scrabble club last night and played four games. I used to play regularly there. I used to be pretty good. But now my skills are rusty, so my modest goal was to win half my games and not make a fool of myself in front of Jona. She came along just for fun–just to watch and take it all in.

Sadly, I began my night by getting schooled by an expert named Larry Sherman (brother of former world and national champion Joel Sherman) by the score of 435-397. I thought things were gonna go well when he began the game by playing ULU for 6 points, but then he threw down three consecutive bingos–RELINES for 63 points, SHEARINg for 86, and AGITAbLE for 59–and before I could blink, I was losing, 214-72. (A “bingo” is when a player uses all seven tiles at once, which is good for a 50-point bonus.) So I’m glad I was able to make it close. Here’s a photo of the board after the game:

final_board_1st_round.jpg

I played my second game against a guy named Sal Campo (try saying “Campo-Hample” three times fast), and it was another high-scoring affair. I ended up with 394 points and I still lost by 34. Here’s a photo of me picking tiles (the bag is supposed to be kept at or above eye level) in my game against him:

zack_playing_sal_campo.jpg

My third game got off to a miserable start when my opponent Jean Lithgow (ex-wife of John Lithgow) opened with TEMpING for 72 points. (The lowercase letter indicates that it was a blank tile.) She later played PUTRIDER for 67 points and ReMAINED for 70. PUTRIDER turned out to be phony, but stupid me…I neglected to challenge. I figured it meant “more putrid.” Final score: Jean 434, Zack 358. Jona was loving it. She was tired of seeing me win all the time.

I finally redeemed myself in Game 4. (If only Game 4 of the World Series could’ve been this good to me.) I played a man named Jim Piazza (no relation to Mike) and won, 441-310. My big move of the game was FAMINEs for 80 points, and I’d just like to point out that that word contained the only blank I got all night. (Poor me.)

I ended up going 1-3 (bleh) with a cumulative spread of -17 points. Here’s a shot of my final score slip:

zack_final_score_slip.jpg

The photo of the night was taken after the final round when Jona was getting bundled up and put on her pink mohawk hat. Joel Sherman (who runs the club) spotted the odd headgear and shot a rather befuddled glance in her direction:

joel_eyes_jona.jpg
Ahh, yes…the NYC Scrabble Club. Gotta love it.

Speaking of Scrabble, there’s a little article about me in the new issue of “Scrabble News.” Here’s a shot of the front page…

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…and here’s a closer look at the bottom:

scrabble_news2.jpg

One more Scrabble note: There’s a documentary about Scrabble called “Word Wars” and you HAVE TO see it. Even if you don’t like Scrabble, you will enjoy this movie. I promise. It’s more about people than about Scrabble, and Joel Sherman is one of the main characters who was featured in the film. Seriously, watch this movie. Order it on Netflix. Run out and rent it. It’s awesome and hilarious. (When you watch it, look closely and you’ll be able to spot me wearing a yellow shirt right near the end. But that’s not why you should watch it. That’s just a teeny bonus.)

Happy Halloween. I’ll be celebrating by flying to L.A. (third time there in two months) for my half-brother’s wedding.

2008 World Series — Game 4

This was my fourth World Series game ever and only the second at which I was actually going to be inside the stadium. (I spent Games 1 and 2 of last year’s World Series behind the Green Monster.)

I wouldn’t have gotten to attend this game if not for my friends Clif and Gail. Gail has a friend at ESPN. The friend was able to get tickets. Gail had a couple extras and invited me and my girlfriend Jona to come along.

Here we are heading down to Philadelphia on the New Jersey Turnpike:

tickets_driving.jpg

The parking situation was a nightmare. There were about a million fans (including tailgaters) at Lincoln Financial Field right next door for the Eagles game, and that evening there was going to be a concert by The Who at the neighboring Wachovia Center. Somehow we managed to find a spot amidst the sea of RVs, and as we headed over to McFadden’s for a pre-BP meal, I made everyone wait while I recreated a photo of myself that was taken 15 years earlier. Check it out below. The photo on the left was taken outside Veterans Stadium before Game 5 of the ’93 Series, and the photo on the right was taken yesterday:

zack_world_series_photos.jpg

There was quite a line for tickets:

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Other people had their own methods:

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I can only describe the scene surrounding the stadium as one of general hoopla:

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I’d been to this stadium 18 times before for regular season games; it was strange (and more stressful than exciting) to be there for all this madness. There was even a mechanical bull in  the middle of a big inflatable ring:

general_hoopla2.jpg

I’ll admit that I was part of the madness. Not only did I bring my Big Glove, but I had a big ball to go with it:

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Here are the four of us…Jona, me (wearing a ’93 World Series cap), Clif (wearing an Eagles jersey), and Gail:

jona_zack_clif_gail.jpg

Clif and I wandered around with the Big Glove, and I made sure he was the one carrying it so he’d be the center of attention. It worked. Not only did a dozen people approach us and ask to take photos with him, but he was interviewed by a TV crew from Florida. I should’ve taken a photo of Clif with the microphone in his face, but I spaced out. This was my first game in more than four weeks, and there were other moments when I just wasn’t on MY game.

The stadium opened at 5:30pm (roughly three hours before game time), and we received a few giveaways as we headed inside. The first was toilet paper (aka a Phillies “rally towel”)…

rally_towel1.jpg

…and even THAT had an authentication sticker:

rally_towel2_authentication_sticker.jpg

(The sticker on my Beltran ball is cooler.) The second item was a coin commemorating the Hank Aaron Award, and it came in a nifty little decorative cardboard case (which also had a sticker):

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Here’s a look at both sides of the coin:

game_4_coin.jpg

As for BP…

Since every section was going to be open at the start of the day (to accommodate the huge crowd), I raced out to the seats in right-center and had the whole place to myself for the first minute.

Well, almost all to myself.

As I was racing to pick up a home run ball that landed in the empty seats, an usher came charging down the steps and slammed into me and started scrambling for it.

“What the HELL are you doing?!” I shouted.

“The same thing as YOU!” he snapped. “Trying to get a ball.”

“Yeah but you WORK here!”

“They haven’t even opened UP yet!” he said. “You’re not supposed to be here!”

“Um, actually the stadium HAS opened,” I said, and the usher was like, “Uhhh…sorry.”

Unbelievable.

Anyway, I got that ball (along with a nice bruise on my left biceps) and snagged another homer that landed in the seats two minutes later. Neither of these balls had the World Series logo on them. No surprise there. They were just regular balls.

The seats in right-center stayed pretty empty for the first 10 minutes or so…

zack_BP1_10_26_08.jpg

…but nothing else was hit within my reach. I could have easily gotten Scott Eyre to toss me a ball, but instead of asking for it, I asked if he might be able to toss me one with a World Series logo instead. He said he hadn’t seen any, and that they weren’t being used in BP, and that he hadn’t even seen those balls in the bullpen.

Clif (aka “goislanders4″ if you read the comments on this blog) started off in the corner spot in left-center:

clif_during_BP1_game_4.jpg

Here’s a closer look at him:

clif_during_BP2_game_4.jpg

He didn’t get anything there, but he didn’t go home empty-handed. I’ll let him be the one to tell you about it.

I’d made/brought a sign to help me get balls, and Jona took a pic of me waving it around in the front row:

zack_BP2_10_26_08.jpg

It didn’t work. Here’s what it said:

zack_BP3_10_26_08.jpg

When the Rays pitchers came out and started playing catch along the left field foul line, I changed into my Rays gear and positioned myself near Dan Wheeler, who was all the way out near the outfield wall. I didn’t shout his name. I didn’t wave my arms. I just stood there, and within FIVE seconds, he looked up (on his own) and spotted me in the crowd.

“ZACK!!!” he shouted. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you!”

“What’s up!” I shouted back.

dan_wheeler_2008.jpg

“Was that you who caught the two home runs at Yankee Stadium and–”

“–and did that stupid dance?”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah, that was me!” I yelled, “and I also caught the last Mets homer at Shea!”

“Unbelievable!” he said as he continued throwing.

“Dan!” I shouted a few moments later, and when he looked up, I told him I was dying to get a World Series ball and asked if he could help. He pretty much said the same thing as Eyre. I asked if I could meet him out by the bullpen or at the dugout after the game, and he said he didn’t think he’d be able to get one. “Well then, how am *I* supposed to get one?” I asked.

“Catch a B.J. Upton homer during the game,” he said.

“Yeah, that’d be nice,” I replied, and that was pretty much the end of our conversation.

(I should probably point out, for those who might be new to this blog, that I got to know Wheeler back in the days when he pitched for the Mets, and he’s remembered me ever since; last year, when I saw him at Camden Yards, he asked for a signed copy of my book.)

I started working my way down the foul line (can you spot me in the pic below?)…

zack_BP4_10_26_08.jpg

…and set up my operation behind the Rays’ dugout:

zack_BP5_10_26_08.jpg

I stayed there for the entire portion of the Rays’ batting practice. I knew I was missing opportunities to catch (or at least chase) home run balls in the outfield, but I figured my best chance of getting a World Series ball was to get someone’s attention–Joe Maddon, perhaps?–and work the personal touch. It didn’t happen. I got acknowledged by plenty of people, but NO ONE had a World Series ball or even knew where to find one.

I did, however, get a regular ball (not sure who tossed it…might’ve been Fernando Perez) and got filmed/photographed/interviewed by at least 20 different members of the media who were milling about on the warning track. In the photo above, in case you missed it, there’s a guy pointing a camera at me. Apparently there was a brief shot of me that was used during the FOX pre-game show, and I also got a couple mentions online. The following photo appeared on a blog on the St. Petersburg Times web site

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…(did you notice Jona in that pic?) and the following text appeared in this article in the Times itself:

zack_st_petersberg_times.jpg

So it wasn’t a complete loss.

Here’s some general weirdness…

world_series_weirdness.jpg

…and here’s what the pre-game festivities looked like from my spot behind the Phillies’ dugout:

pregame_hoopla.jpg

NOTE: I said “spot” and not “seat” for a reason. My actual seat was in the upper deck on the third base side. I never went up there. Gail and Jona did (and I believe Clif even went up there too for a bit), and this was their view during the game:

view_from_426.jpg

Not bad, I suppose, but MY view was better:

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That was only my view for about two minutes. It was incredibly easy to get down into the seats behind the dugouts. The only problem was that there weren’t any EMPTY seats, so I was constantly jockeying for position and trying to avoid getting caught. I had to crouch on the steps a couple times while I waited for the third outs to be recorded. And I was only down in the seats when there were two outs. The rest of the time? I was hiding in the field level concourse, trying not to go crazy from having a view like this:

view_during_game_4.jpg

Yup, that’s how I watched most of Game 4 of the World Series. Sad but true. Sometimes I climbed up and tried to look over everyone’s heads…

zack_trying_to_see.jpg

…but it never ceased to be annoying. Anyway, if I was willing to spend an entire World Series game (two games, in fact) last year outside the stadium without seeing a single pitch, you can be sure I was willing to do it here in Philly for the chance to remain on the field level and get a game-used ball with the Series logo.

Sadly, though, I kept getting blocked/dissed. The competition on the Phillies’ side was in-SANE. At one point, as I was reaching high up and leaning to my backhand side to catch a third-out ball tossed by Ryan Howard, someone grabbed my arm and yanked it down, causing me to fall over onto the people sitting next to me. (Maybe THAT’S when I bruised my arm.) I can’t even begin to describe how pissed off I was. The fact is, I would have caught that ball if I weren’t…violated. Yes, that’s the word.

The competition behind the home-plate end of the Rays’ dugout was nonexistent. There were a few times when I was the ONLY fan standing and shouting for the ball as Carlos Pena jogged in with it, and he ignored me each of those times and kept the ball for himself as he disappeared from sight. It was depressing.

One good thing that happened is that I found a couple of ticket stubs, including one in section 117 which was exactly where I needed to be for third-out balls on the Phillies’ side…

tickets_i_found_game_4.jpg

…but it didn’t make a difference. No luck. No love.

I was obviously rooting for the Phillies to lose, and yet if I were given the choice between a) the Rays winning by a small margin or b) the Phillies winning a laugher, I probably would’ve picked the latter. Even at the World Series, I’ve learned, fans WILL leave early, and I was in desperate need of empty seats.

Well, I got my seats in the bottom of the 8th when the Phillies scored four runs to open up a 10-2 lead. It wasn’t the way I envisioned it, but it gave me all the space I needed to maneuver down to the front row behind the Rays’ dugout to try to get a ball from home plate umpire Tom Hallion after the final out. Unfortunately, Hallion ignored me on his way in, and just like that…POOF!!!…my night ended without a World Series ball. On a lifetime list of disappointing moments at baseball games, that one ranks just behind my near miss of Ken Griffey Jr.’s 600th career home run. And then, to make matters worse, I ran into a kid who’d been competing with me for third-out balls all night…and he’d gotten one…THE final third-out ball…the ball that J.C. Romero used to strike out Rocco Baldelli to end the game. Carlos Ruiz had tossed it to him on the Phillies’ side. He was thoroughly excited, as he should’ve been, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

“I learned from the best,” he said, referring to me (and my blog), which was nice, but I was feeling so defeated at that point that I could only offer a weak “congrats.” I just wanted to go home. I wanted the season to end. A couple minutes earlier, I’d gotten my fourth ball of the day from Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos, but so what? It was another regular ball. All four of my balls at this game were regular. How sad…

four_balls_game_4.jpg

What a lousy way for a magical season to end.

STATS:

• 4 balls at this game

• 543 balls in 73 games this season = 7.4 balls per game.

• 569 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 4 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball

• 3,820 total balls

YES Network

Another day, another YouTube video…

Remember when I caught home runs on back-to-back nights last month at Yankee Stadium? Remember when Michael Kay, the Yankees’ announcer, joked on-air about sending “Kim” out to the bleachers to interview me? Turns out he wasn’t joking. I *was* interviewed the next day for a pre-game show on the YES Network, and here it is:

This is one of those clips that you have to watch twice. Check out the goofy kids in the background. At one point, it looks like one of them pretends to pick his nose and wipe it on his friend. Mmmmm.

Two more YouTube videos

I’m loving technology right now…

For years and years, I’ve had a bunch of old TV interviews that I wasn’t able to share because they were trapped/embedded on DVDs.

Well, thanks to a free program called HandBrake (which I discovered thanks to a guy named Cole who reads this blog), I’ve been able to “rip” these old segments off the DVDs…and thanks to a program called iMovie that came with my Mac, I’ve been able to edit these segments and make them presentable for YouTube by cutting out the commercial breaks and fading in and out (where necessary). Stuff like that.

Anyway, I have two more videos to share…

The first was filmed on 4/17/06 and 4/18/06 by SportsNet New York (the New York Mets’ cable network) for a show called “Kids Clubhouse.” The host was Amanda Cole (the daughter of Kenneth Cole), and you can watch it here:

The second video was filmed on 9/7/06 by The New York Times. They published an article about me on September 10, 2006; this video was released as a companion piece for the web site. Check it out:

Stay tuned for more videos. Now that I know I won’t be attending Games 1 or 2 of the World Series, I should have time to rip/edit/upload a few more…

Sports Carolina Monthly

sports_carolina_monthly1b.jpgThere’s an article about me in the current issue of Sports Carolina Monthly. Wanna know how it got there?

1) The editor-in-chief is a guy named John Olszewski.

2) John has a neighbor named Dave Limburg.

3) Dave teaches German at Guilford College.

4) I graduated from Guilford in 2001, and although I never took German, I became friends with Dave.

5) Guilford is located in Greensboro, North Carolina.

6) Dave told John about me.

I just put the article on my web site, and you can read it here. In case you want to check out the Sports Carolina Monthly web site, here’s the link.

In other news…

? It’s embarrassing to be called “the world’s greatest baseball fan.” I’m not sure if there IS anyone who deserves that title, but I can tell you it wouldn’t apply to any of the people who left Fenway Park early last night. Lord, have mercy on their souls. (Or not.)

? I’ve basically finished fixing my old blog entries. I don’t even want to tell you how many hours/days it took. THAT is embarrassing.

? My dad and I have officially reversed roles. He called me during Game 5 of the NLCS, and as soon as I answered the phone, he said, “Did you ever see such a dumb bunch of plays?” He was, of course, referring to Rafael Furcal’s three errors in the fifth inning, but I hadn’t seen them. I was watching the presidential debate.

? There’s a chance that I might snag another ball before the 2008 season is through.

? I was interviewed a few days ago on a radio show called Ballin’ with Books, and as a result I was included in the host’s latest word search. (See below.) Can you find my name?

word_search.jpg

Fixing old entries

Have you ever tried to click a photograph in one of my
old (pre-2008) blog entries and gotten an error page that looks like
this?
sorry_not_found.jpg

The reason why this happened is that the entire MLBlogs Network was
overhauled in March 2008, and in the process everyone’s pre-existing photos got
partially messed up; the thumbnails still appeared in the entries, but whenever they were clicked they yielded an error page like the one you see above.

Well, I have some good news…

Ever since I posted my first entry in April 2005, I’ve been saving all my photos in a separate file on my hard drive. That’s the first part of the good news. The second part is that I’ve finally started combing through my old entries and re-uploading these photos. It’s taking a LOT of work, but it’s fun and satisfying and I should be able to finish in just a couple more days. So far I’ve fixed everything from April 2005 through December 2006, and you can find everything in between under the “ARCHIVES” heading in the column on the right side of this blog. Just click a month/year and you’re off.

In other news…

1) A lot of people have been emailing me and asking if I’m going to any playoff games. The answer is that I have no idea.

2) Mark Newman (the grandfather of MLBlogs) recently posted a couple lists on his blog of the traffic leaders on this network. MY blog falls into the “pro” category, and it ranks in 6th place (just ahead of Alyssa Milano). Big thanks to all of you who’ve been reading. And just so you know, even if I don’t attend any playoff games, I’ll be blogging right through the off-season and into 2009…

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (?!)

Okay…

So as a general rule, I don’t allow myself to get excited about these things too far in advance because they have a tendency to fall through…

tonight_show_screen_shot1.jpg
BUT…

It looks pretty certain that I’m gonna be a guest on “The Tonight Show” on Wednesday, October 8th.

The image on the right is a screen shot of the “show calendar” on the site. Check it out. My name is already up there.

For the record, I didn’t choose the title “world’s greatest baseball fan,” but I suppose I can live with that for now.

I’ve watched Leno sporadically over the years, so I’m not an expert on his format. The site says that Dana Carvey is going to be on the show too, so what does that mean? That I’ll be sitting up on the stage with him? That both he AND Leno will be making fun of me simultaneously? Bring it on!

Anyway, keep your fingers crossed that my appearance doesn’t get canceled. Assuming everything goes according to plan, I might not have a chance to blog again…ever. Just kidding, but seriously, it might be a few days before I get a chance to check back in.

Beltran homer aftermath

Just wanted to give a quick-ish update about what’s been happening since I caught Carlos Beltran’s home run on 9/28/08 at Shea Stadium

On September 30th, a guy named Carl Bialik, who writes a blog called “The Numbers Guy” on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted this entry about me. Later that day, Carl’s entry was quoted on Yahoo, and the day after that the story made its way to Deadspin. Today there was a short article about me in Newsday (which is one of the local papers here in New York City). I’ve done a bunch of radio interviews in the last few days, including an hour-long, in-studio follow-up for NPR which will be edited down and aired later this month. Tomorrow morning at 8:20 (in case you’re up early), I’ll be doing a live radio interview with WZLX 100.7 FM in Boston. I’ve been told there will be a sports memorabilia dealer on the show with me and that we’ll be discussing the value of the ball. (Anyone have a theory about what it’s worth?) As you might expect, I’ve been hearing from a ton of people. One guy who got in touch was an old friend I hadn’t heard from for 17 years. Another was a producer for “Good Morning America.” I’m not sure if I’m gonna be on that show, but there ARE a couple other things in the works that would be pretty big. Finally (and I’m sorry but I absolutely must share this), I got an email from someone this week which contained the following image:

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Oh, and one more thing…
I still haven’t read any of the comments on Yahoo, but apparently there are a few from someone called “zack hample.” I just want to say, for the record, that while I *am* the only Zack Hample in the world (that I know of), it wasn’t me who created that username.

That’s it for now. I still can’t believe I caught that ball. More soon…

9/28/08 at Shea Stadium

Last game EVER at Shea Stadium?

When I got off the No. 7 train and saw the tarp covering the infield…

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…I had no idea if I’d ever be back at this ballpark.

The Mets entered this day–the last day of the regular season–tied for
the Wild Card with the Brewers, who were scheduled to play the
first-place Cubs at 2:05pm at Miller Park. If both the Mets and Brewers
won, or if they both
lost, they’d face each other the next day in a one-game playoff at Shea
to determine
who’d be moving on to the post-season.

I’d never been to a game with more history and uncertainty, and yet because of the gray sky and thick damp
air, there was an eerie calmness surrounding Shea as I made my way
toward Gate C:

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It was only 9:30am–more than three-and-a-half-hours until game
time–when I passed the ticket windows and saw a small line of hopeful
fans:

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I already had a ticket–not a very good one, but at least I was
guaranteed to get inside the ballpark. The seat was way up in the top
corner of the upper deck. I’d bought it on StubHub
two weeks earlier (for $100 plus shipping and handling) when my plans
to spend the last weekend of the season at Camden Yards fell through.
At that time, the Mets were cruising toward a first-place finish. I
didn’t expect this game to be THE final game, so I wasn’t too concerned
about my seat location.

I was, however, deeply concerned about the snagging situation. I wasn’t
thinking about catching 10 balls. I just wanted one. One lousy ball.
Even a training ball.
Anything. I was desperate. I just wanted to keep my streak alive. I
didn’t think there was going to be batting practice, and I figured
there’d be a ton of fans showing up early, and I assumed that security
would be extra strict. Would I even be able to get into the Field Level
to try to get a player to toss me a ball? I had no idea.

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Then there was the issue of the final home run at Shea. The two
starting pitchers were left-handed–Scott Olsen for the Marlins and
Oliver Perez for the Mets–which meant there’d be more right-handed
batters, which meant that if anyone DID hit a home run, it would likely
be pulled to left field, which meant it would likely land in the
bleachers. But how the hell was I possibly going to get in there? The
bleachers at Shea, as I’ve mentioned before, are part of the larger
“picnic area.” To get in there you specifically need a “picnic” ticket, and
those are normally only sold to groups of 100 or more.

I had a trick up my sleeve, but it was risky, so I was pretty
nervous
about the whole thing…and yet I *had* to get in there. The LAST home
run at Shea was at stake. I couldn’t bear the thought of being
trapped in the main part of the stadium and not even giving myself a
chance to catch it.

Well, as fate would have it, I was waiting outside Gate C (which was about to
open) when my friend Eric walked over. He’d been standing in line at
the ticket windows and was finally rewarded when the Mets released a few seats. He’d bought
one for $47. I asked him where it was. He said it was in the picnic
area. My jaw dropped and I asked him if he would be willing to trade.

“You want to sit out THERE?!” he asked. (Not everyone collects baseballs.)

“Umm, YEAH!!!” I said.

So we traded. I was in shock. This was my new ticket…

final_day4_ticket.jpg
…and I used it to get into the bleachers at the start of
batting practice. Yes, the Mets were actually hitting. I couldn’t
believe it. It wasn’t just drizzling–it
was raining. Look how wet the railings were
at the front of the bleachers:

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Everything was wet. Mike Pelfrey threw me a wet ball within the
first five minutes, and Brandon Knight tossed me another soon after.
The ball from Knight was commemorative. Here it is:

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These were the only two balls I snagged during the Mets’ portion of
BP. I should’ve had a third but I misjudged a home run that ended up
sailing a few feet over my glove. I’d misjudged one the day before
as well. That one fell short. I blamed the weather. The air was heavy
and damp, and the ball just didn’t carry. Why, then, under identical
circumstances one day later, did this one sail too far? I couldn’t
figure it out. Maybe it was me and not the weather. Maybe I was losing
my touch. It wasn’t a good sign.

The Mets finished BP early, and the Marlins were nowhere in sight, so I
headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I saw as I approached the 3rd base dugout. Very frustrating:

final_day6a_waiting_for_marlins_BP.jpg

Eventually a few Marlins came out and started playing catch, and when
they finished, I called out to coach Bo Porter and got him to throw me
the following ball:

final_day7_ball3813.jpg

I didn’t know it at the time, but the Marlins had just played a
series in Washington, D.C. That’s why they had one (and probably more)
of the Nationals’ baseballs.

The Marlins started hitting, so I raced back out to the bleachers. My
fourth ball of the day was tossed by a pitcher that I couldn’t
identify, and my fifth was a ground-rule double that bounced right to
me off the warning track in left-center.

I would’ve had a sixth ball if Matt Treanor were as athletic as his wife.
I got him to throw one to me from a couple hundred feet away, but his
aim was off and he didn’t put quite enough velocity on it, and it
never reached me. Then the rain got more intense, and the grounds crew quickly covered the field:

final_day8_BP_ends_early.jpg

I gave one of my balls to a security guard who wanted one for his nephew
and then I headed back into the main part of the stadium. This is what I
unexpectedly saw when I entered the street-level concourse:

final_day9_mets_legends_arrive.jpg

I had no idea what was going on, and of course I couldn’t see a
damn thing, so I asked around and learned that a few dozen former Mets
were entering the stadium.

I headed up the ramps and emerged in the Field Level seats. The tarp was on the field, and all the players were gone…

final_day10_tarp_field_level.jpg

…so I headed up to the right field corner of the upper deck and
took a few photos of Citi Field. Here’s a look at the whole stadium:

final_day11_citi_field.jpg

This was the view slightly to the left:

final_day12_citi_field.jpg

The following photo shows some of the construction clutter on the open-air concourse of the upper deck…

final_day13_citi_field.jpg

…and this last shot provides a peek inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Notice how the escalators are covered in plastic:

final_day14_citi_field.jpg

I headed back down to the Field Level and got a final reminder of
why Shea is such a dump. As you can see below, there was a huge puddle
in one of the tunnels that wouldn’t drain:

final_day15_flooded_tunnel.jpg

The rain finally stopped. The grounds crew started getting the
field ready. The first pitch was pushed back to 2pm. I used the extra
time to wander and take photos of some of the many signs that fans had brought. I’m not sure
what all the names on the sign below have in common (other than all
being former Mets) but it was still cool:

final_day16_sign.jpg

These guys were intense:

final_day17_sign.jpg

This dude hit the nail on the head:

final_day18_sign.jpg

This was one of several signs that made a play on the word “Shea”:

final_day19_sign.jpg

This fan needed a thicker marker and some extra glue:

final_day20_sign.jpg

This woman (for those unfamiliar with Mets history) was talking
about Mike Piazza. Notice how the actual retired numbers can be seen in
the background:

final_day21_sign.jpg

Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, and the bleachers looked more crowded than ever:

final_day22_national_anthem.jpg

Several Marlins started playing catch in front of the
dugout, and I was tempted to run over because I *knew* I would’ve
gotten at least one ball. I was one of the only fans in the stadium
with Marlins gear (and believe me, I felt icky and embarrassed whenever
I wore it), but I decided to forget the Fish and head to the bleachers
instead. That section is normally general admission, but during this
final weekend of the regular season, Mets management decided that
assigned seating was the way to go. My actual seat was in the second
row behind the yellow “WISE” advertisement, but there was no way I was
gonna sit there. Second row?! Are you kidding me?! That’s no way to
catch a home run ball, and anyway, I didn’t want to sit all the way out
in left-center. I didn’t know where I was going to sit, but I figured
it was best to head out there ASAP and start looking for a spot. On the
way, I took a photo (from behind) of some fans holding up big
orange-and-blue letters that spelled “GOODBYE SHEA”:

final_day23_sign.jpg

Then I ran into Elvis…

final_day24_elvis.jpg

…and made my way to the bleachers. Amazingly, I found ONE empty space on a two-person bench at the front of the cross-aisle.

final_day24a_my_seat.jpg

If I’d had a choice, I would’ve picked a spot in straight-away left
field. This empty seat was closer to left-center than I wanted to be,
but hey, it was still great compared to where I was supposed to be
sitting. Anyway, once I was there, I realized that I probably wasn’t
going to have to move. As you can see in the photo above, there were
little wheelchair logos embedded into the metal flooring next to the
small benches–but there weren’t any fans in wheelchairs. If there had
been, they obviously would’ve had the right to sit there, but as things
stood, those little benches were up for grabs so I sat there guilt-free.

Everyone kept their eyes on the out-of-town scores throughout the day,
and because of the rain delay, our game basically started at the same
time as the Brewers game. This was my view of the giant
scoreboard…

final_day25_scoreboard_watching.jpg

…and here’s a closer look at the Cubs-Brewers game:

final_day26_scoreboard_watching.jpg

I hadn’t been looking when the Cubs’ score changed from “0″ to “1″
so
when the whole stadium cheered wildly for no apparent reason, I took a
quick peek at the scoreboard and then joined the celebration.

This was my view straight ahead…

final_day27_view_during_game.jpg

…and this was the view to my right:

final_day28_view_to_my_right.jpg

I knew I was in a good spot to jump up and run for any ball that
might fly my way, but at the same time I knew it was going to be a mob
scene, and I wasn’t THAT optimistic.

Meanwhile, there was quite a pitchers’ duel in progress:

final_day29_pitchers_duel.jpg

The Mets went down one-two-three in the bottom of the fifth, and
the Marlins quickly got on the board in the sixth. Cameron Maybin led
off with a ground-rule double and scored on a single by John Baker.
Jorge Cantu followed with a single of his own, and then both runners
tagged up and moved into scoring position on a deep fly out to
left-center by Mike Jacobs. Perez intentionally walked Dan Uggla to
load the bases and was promptly taken out of the game. What did
reliever Joe Smith do? He walked Josh Willingham to force in a run.
Cody Ross then popped up to third and Alfredo Amezaga ended the inning
with a soft come-backer, but the damage had been done. The Marlins were
ahead, 2-0.

carlos_beltran.jpg
In the bottom of the sixth, pinch hitter Robinson Cancel got things
started with a leadoff walk, and Jose Reyes followed with a routine fly
out to right. That brought up Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who was
batting from the right side. The first pitch missed the zone. The
second pitch was an 88-mph fastball, belt-high over the outside corner,
and Beltran crushed it in my direction.

It was clearly going to travel a long way, but at the instant that it
left the bat, I wasn’t sure if it would be a fly out to the warning
track or a home run that traveled 50 feet over my head. The only thing
I could do was jump up and start moving. The ball was heading about 20
feet to my right, so I darted through the aisle in that direction. No
one else reacted as quickly as I had so the aisle was still fairly
empty for the first 10 feet. Then, as I realized that the ball WAS
going to leave the yard and that it WAS at least going to land
somewhere near the aisle, I had to weave in and out of a few fans. The
ball was coming. I kept moving. I kept my eye on it and sensed all the
moving bodies around me. The aisle got extremely crowded. Everyone was
standing. There were no kids. Everyone was tall. I was in a forest. I
had to elevate above the tallest trees, and I had to pick the right
spot and time it perfectly. The ball kept
coming…coming…coming…and I couldn’t believe I was even going to
be close enough to be able to make an attempt to catch it, but it
descended right toward me, and I jumped up at the last second and
WILLED myself through the sea of hands and bodies that were fighting to
invade my air space. The ball came all the way down, and I went up and
caught it. Bam. Just like that. There was such a frenzy in the
bleachers at that point that my hat got knocked off. I was as stunned
and excited as ever. You know that Barry Bonds home run I caught a few
years ago? That was nothing in comparison. Check out this screen shot
of my initial reaction. It was a moment of utter
disbelief before I really started celebrating:

final_day30_zack_celebrating1.jpg

Then I moved on to the “Oh my God” phase:

final_day31_zack_celebrating2a.jpg

Then there was a bit of “I think I’m the Man but this might not really be happening so I’ll just keep my arms up in case”:

final_day32_zack_celebrating3a.jpg

Then people started mobbing me, not to try to steal the ball (which
I probably shouldn’t have even taken out of my glove in the first place
except I had to see it to believe it) but just to celebrate with me.
It’s like I was part of the play. Everyone had to touch me. I felt
someone bear-hugging me from behind while another hand started rubbing
my shaved head:

final_day33_zack_celebrating4.jpg

The celebration just wouldn’t end:

final_day34_zack_celebrating5.jpg

Then, after I tucked the ball back inside my glove, there were some high-fives…

final_day35_zack_celebrating6.jpg

…followed by more hugging and head-rubbing:

final_day36_zack_celebrating7.jpg

And some more high-fives. Check it out…two at once:

final_day37_zack_celebrating8.jpg

It was THE…CRAZIEST…HAPPIEST…MOMENT…EVER. I’m not sure if anything will ever top it.

(Click here
to watch the actual video footage. If there’s anyone reading this
who taped the game on SNY and can get me the full clip, please get in touch…)

As soon as the minute-long love-fest concluded, the potential magnitude
of the situation sunk in even more: I was holding, at least at that
point, the LAST home run hit at Shea Stadium.

“I need an authenticator!!!” I started shouting at every security guard in sight.

They were all like…huh? So I kept shouting and rambling about how
Major League Baseball has authenticators at every game and that I needed to see one right away.

One of the guards told me to talk to the supervisor–a very friendly
woman named Kim–who knew what I was talking about (thank God) and had
me wait in my seat for a few minutes. So I did…and I kept getting
mobbed (in a good way) by people who wanted to take pictures of/with me
and the ball, which I never let out of my hands. One guy was like,
“C’mon, what’m I gonna do with it?”

“I don’t know,” I told him, “and that’s why it’s not leaving my hand. You can hold the ball WITH me if you want.”

He was willing to accept that…so while I had my death-grip on 90
percent of the ball, he touched as much of the remaining part of the
ball as he could and his friend took a pic.

I made an exception about letting go of the ball for the
authenticator. I figured he wasn’t going to try to steal it. Kim came
and got me and led me down the steps to the area behind the bleachers.
The authenticator, pictured below…

final_day38_authenticator.jpg

…emerged from the gated area behind the batter’s eye. I’m not
even sure what he said. The whole thing was a blur. I think he
congratulated me, or maybe I’m just hoping he did. I wanted to ask a
million questions, but he clearly didn’t have too much time to spare. I
asked what his name was, and two seconds after he told me, I’d already
forgotten. All I know is that he had a pad-like clipboard thing and a
roll of stickers, each with a different serial number. He peeled one
off and stuck it on the ball and then made some notations. I’m not even
sure if he had a corresponding sticker. Like I said, it was all a blur.
This was the first ball I’d ever gotten authenticated, and my mind was
racing like you wouldn’t believe.

He was very calm about the whole thing. I was kinda happy…

final_day39_authenticator_and_zack.jpg

…and when I got back to the seats, the death-grip returned:

final_day40_zack_with_ball.jpg

Here’s a look at the sticker:

final_day41_the_ball_closeup_at_shea.jpg

Here’s another look at it. I took this pic when I got home to show how it changes colors in the light:

final_day42_authentication_sticker.jpg

Here’s the commemorative logo:

final_day43_commemorative_logo.jpg

Here’s the whole thing:

final_day44_one_more_look_at_the_ball.jpg

People kept coming up to me for the rest of the game. They wanted to
see the ball, touch the ball, shake my hand, ask me questions, etc.
Several people recognized me as THAT GUY who’d recently caught the home runs on
back-to-back nights at Yankee Stadium, and a few others recognized me
from various articles and interviews. One guy came over to talk to me
and blocked everyone’s view behind him, so security told him he had to
return to his seat. What did he do next? He crouched down next to me on
my right, which meant he was completely blocking my path into the
aisle. When I told him not to block me, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get
out of the way if one comes.”

“Sir,” I wanted to say, “in the time it would take you to turn your big
head 45 degrees to watch the initial flight of the ball, I’d be 10
steps down the aisle. Now please, get the **** out of my way.”

But instead I asked him nicely to move, and he did.

A woman returned to her seat with a mini-helmet filled with cookies-n-cream Dippin’ Dots.

“Can I buy that from you?” I asked.

“I’ll give it to you,” she said, “in exchange for that ball you caught.”

I had nine new voice-mails on my cell phone by that point. I hadn’t heard my
phone ring, and I couldn’t listen to the messages, because there was no
reception. (Thanks, T-Mobile.)

Who was I supposed to root for at that point? It was hard for me to
root against the Mets, but I realized that if they lost and the Brewers
(who were now leading the Cubs, 3-1, in the eighth) held on and won, there
wouldn’t be another game at Shea…ever…and I might end up being the
fan who got the last home run there. I just needed the Mets and Marlins
NOT to hit another longball…and they obliged in the seventh inning.

Wow, 12 more outs to go…

In the top of the eighth, with the score still tied at 2-2, Jerry
Manuel brought in the left-handed Scott Schoeneweis to face the
left-handed hitting Jacobs. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez answered by
pinch hitting with the right-handed Wes Helms. Three pitches into the
at-bat, Helms crushed a line drive into the bleachers.
Noooooooooooooo!!! I almost caught it and surely would have if it’d
just traveled an additional 10 feet.

“Your ball is now worthless,” said an annoying fan behind me.

“Not really,” I said. “It’s still the last METS homer at Shea.”

Uggla, a righty, was due to bat next, so Manuel replaced Blow-eneweis
with the right-handed Luis Ayala. Uggla worked a full count, and then
BOOM!!! Another home run…again into the bleachers but too far over
toward straight-away left field for me to even get near it.

“Your ball is now REALLY worthless,” said Mr. Annoying.

“Okay,” I told him, “then don’t buy it.”

I didn’t have any intention of selling it–I’ve never sold a ball–but it
was still fun to think about how much it would potentially be worth.

Ayala retired the next three batters.

The Mets got the tying runs on base with two outs in the bottom of the
eighth, but couldn’t bring them home. The Brewers game went final. They
beat the Cubs, 3-1. The Mets HAD to score at least two runs in the
bottom of the ninth or their season was done.

The Marlins didn’t score in the top of the ninth. I looked at the
batters that the Mets would be sending up in the bottom of the inning:
David Wright followed by 1) a lefty, 2) a pinch hitter who was probably
going to be a lefty since the right-handed Matt Lindstrom was coming
into the game, and 3) more lefties. I decided to stay in the bleachers
for Wright and then bolt toward the Marlins’ dugout.

Wright worked a full count and forced Lindstrom to throw eight pitches,
but on that final pitch, he popped up to Uggla at second base.

I took off for the main part of the stadium and used one final trick
(which I can not reveal) to get myself back into the Field Level.
Before I made it to the seats behind the dugout, Endy Chavez hit a come-backer. Two
outs. Time for a pinch hitter. Who would it be? Damion Easley?! A
righty?! Crap. Well, it was too late now. All I could do was wander on
down toward the dugout and wait. The count went full…

final_day46_game_almost_over.jpg

…and then he walked. Tying run to the plate. Ryan Church. I put
on my Marlins cap and Marlins shirt and got some mean looks from
everyone around me, which I definitely deserved, but hey, business is
business.

Church took the first pitch for a ball and then launched the next one
380 feet. Unfortunately for the Mets, he happened to hit it to the
deepest part of the ballpark. Maybin caught the ball just shy of the
warning track in right-center, and just like that, Shea Stadium was
history.

The Marlins players and coaches formed a line near the mound and
started shaking hands and patting each other on the butts. Nothing
unusual about that, right? Well, just about every fan in the stadium
started chanting, “OFF THE FIELD!!! OFF THE FIELD!!!”

It was really sad and embarrassing. I was sorry not only that this
would be one of my lasting memories of Shea, but that I was even there
to be a part of it. I wasn’t participating in the chant, but still, I
was part of the crowd, and it hurt. That said, I couldn’t blame the fans who were
chanting. Everyone was so upset about the Mets’ second straight
collapse, and everyone had to find some way to express themselves. As
for me? I capitalized on the loss by turning it into an additional
collecting opportunity. If the Marlins had lost, they might’ve all
disappeared into the clubhouse and gotten right on their bus, but since
they won and spilled out onto the field, I knew there was a chance to
get stuff from them…and sure enough, that’s exactly
what happened.

I got a batting glove from Helms as soon as he popped out of the dugout
(he tossed his other glove to a fan 10 feet away) and got Cantu’s cap
as everyone headed back in.

Not bad.

I quickly got the hell away from the dugout and ran into my friend Clif
(aka “goislanders4″ if you read the comments on this blog) and changed
out of my Marlins gear. The “bonus items” I’d received were nice, but
still…Marlins…yuck:

final_day47_zack_bonus_items.jpg

Here’s a look at the (smelly) cap…

final_day48_jorge_cantu_cap.jpg

…and here’s the batting glove which, as you can see below, has Helms’ uniform number stitched onto the wrist:

final_day49_wes_helms_batting_glove.jpg

THAT was cool. I’ve gotten a bunch of batting gloves over the years, and I’ve never seen a player’s number on any of them.

Clif’s mom Gail caught up with us, and we all headed up to the
Mezzanine (third deck) to watch the closing ceremony. What did we see
on our way up the ramps? Another example of Mets fans having expressed themselves:

final_day50_vomit.jpg

The ceremony was fine, I guess, but I had NO interest in being
there. I’d experienced my best day ever as a collector. What more did I
need? I mean, it was nice, I suppose, to see Dwight Gooden and Darryl
Strawberry and other Mets heroes from my childhood walk back out onto
the field one last time…

final_day51_ceremony.jpg

….but it was as bittersweet as it gets. Everyone in
the stadium was upset. I just didn’t want to be there. Neither did
Gail. Clif kinda wanted to stay–he commemorated his final minutes
inside the stadium by photographing the inside of his favorite
bathroom–but even he knew it was time.

I took a final pic of the Beltran ball as I walked through the parking lot…

final_day52_parking_lot.jpg

…and was sent on my way with a few fireworks:

final_day53_parking_lot.jpg

“Oh look,” said Gail, “they’re already blowing up the stadium.”

When I got home, I was finally able to listen to my voice-mails. Here are the top three:

1) From my friend Justen: “Zack, did you just do it again? Did
you catch Beltran’s ball? I got friends callin’ me talking about you
because they just saw you at the Mets game…dude, you are a f*ckin’
superstar.”

2) From Clif: “You’re ridiculously amazing. I seriously
can’t believe it. I didn’t even see you catch it, but like, I looked up
on the JumboTron and I saw you and your hat fall off and whatever…and
you jumped up and down and you held your three fingers up. That was
ridiculous, and like, Marco called me and he was like, ‘Oh did you see
Zack Hample catch Carlos Beltran’s home run?’ That was ridiculolus.
This is Clif by the way, but um, yeah, okay, bye. Oh, and I saw you
getting escorted or whatever, like, they took you out of the picnic
area. They took someone off. But you probably caught the last home run
at Shea, so congratulations. Bye.”

3) From my friend Mike: “Zack Hample, it is Mike Marshall,
former vendor at Shea and the old Yankee Stadium. Alright, so I had a
really emotional day and I’m pretty upset in the general scheme of
things and extremely exhausted, and I’m sitting on my computer chair,
looking at my plasma TV, and I swear to God I saw you catch Carlos
Beltran’s homer, and if that’s true, holy sh*t, man, you are the
American Dream. You’re my hero. F*ck the bleacher creatures and all the
people who don’t get it. But uh, I think that was you. I haven’t had
time to check your blog, and they didn’t, uh, feature you on ESPN, but
tell me that was you. Gimme a call. On a very miserable, long
homestand, I jumped out of my chair and went, ‘No waaay, that can’t
be!!!’ and my woman doesn’t understand, but you might’ve made my night
if you caught that ball. Take it easy. About a hundred and fifty days
until pitchers and catchers report. Later. Happy New Year! Shanah
Tovah.”

Anyway, yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

It took a few days for me to find the time to write this monster blog
entry, and it took the same amount of time for the media to realize
that I, Zack Hample, am the guy who caught the Beltran homer. Carl
Bialik, who writes a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted
this entry
about it, and the story has been taking off ever since. It’s now
12:32am ET on Wednesday, October 1st. Just a few hours ago, I started
getting blog comments and emails from people telling me I was on the
front page of Yahoo…and they weren’t joking. Here’s a screen shot…

yahoo_09_30_08.jpg

…and here’s the story.

This game at Shea might end up being my final game of 2008. I have no idea, but regardless, here are the stats…

? 6 balls at this game

? 539 balls in 72 games this season = 7.5 balls per game.

? 568 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 338 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball

? 13 game balls this season (not counting game-used balls that get tossed into the crowd)

? 5 game home run balls this season (all of which were caught on a fly
at games in New York at which the attendance was at least 52,000)

? 124 lifetime game balls (115 foul balls, 8 home runs, 1 ground-rule double)

? 99 lifetime game balls in New York

? 78 lifetime game balls at Shea Stadium

? 3,816 total balls

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